Garrity's Friday Dad's Hat Happy Hour Breeders' Cup Picks: All 5 Juvenile races from Santa Anita
Today is the first day of the Breeders Cup, held this year at Santa Anita Park, the gorgeous Art Deco track that is arguably the most beautiful sporting venue in the world. Day One of the Super Bowl of horse racing makes this the best installment of the year for our regular Friday feature, Dad’s Hat Happy Hour Handicapping.
Due to the significance and quality of these races, it will be an extended happy hour, with the five BC races, all of which feature 2-year-olds, being run over a period of about two and a half hours. It’s a perfect occasion to savor a glass of one of the savory, hand-crafted-in-Pennsylvania concoctions from our friends at Dad’s Hat – but pace yourself, because it’s going to be a long, enjoyable, and hopefully profitable evening of watching sublimely beautiful horses run in circles.
The weather at Santa Anita will be Southern California perfection; the dirt will be fast, and the turf will be firm, so let’s go.
Santa Anita Park, Race 5, 5:00 pm ET
Grade 1 Breeders Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint, 5 furlongs, Turf, 2-Year-Olds
There are two ways to look at the form of 10-Valiant Force: one is that the best race of his life, when he won the Group 2 Norfolk at the Royal Ascot meet in June, was an utter fluke: he was 150-1, and a maiden, that day, and his subsequent race, when he finished a no-hope fifth in the Group 1 Prix Morny at Deauville in August, would seem to bear that out.
But we are inclined to look at him in a different light. We think his results have been impacted by the going: dry weather made the ground in the Norfolk very firm, firmer than turf courses usually are anywhere in Europe, whereas the ground in the Morny was soft. That Valiant Force thrived going over the former, and struggled going over the latter, may be an indication that he needs firm ground to run his race.
The good news for his connections is that the grass at Santa Anita today will be very firm, and therefore, presumably, very much to Valiant Force’s liking. That, combined with his natural speed – he has shown more speed than is the norm for European horses, which is not that surprising, considering has an all-American pedigree, and was bred in Kentucky – makes us think he is a very real threat to win this race, and to do so at very generous 12-1 odds. This is a very tough race, but we give him the nod, and will bet him to win. The bet: Santa Anita, Race 5, $40 to win on 10-Valiant Force.
Santa Anita Park, Race 6, 5:40 pm ET
Grade 1 Breeders Cup Breeders Cup Juvenile Fillies, 1 1/16 miles, Dirt, 2-Year-Old Fillies
There are two things we think we know about the Breeders Cup Juvenile Fillies: the first is that 7-Tamara, the daughter of all-time great Beholder who is coming off an eye-popping, and very fast, win in the Del Mar Debutante, is absolutely the filly to beat. The second is that at something like 3/5, she is a stone-cold play-against: Breeders Cup history is littered with horses who looked like much surer things who did not win.
We like 1-Candied. Like Tamara, she is undefeated in two career starts, and while she has not run quite as fast as the favorite, she has come close: her win in the Grade 1 Alcibiades at Keeneland last month was very good. Look for Candied to be midpack early, and to prevail with a big more around the far turn, and a strong stretch drive. We will bet her to win at 4-1. The bet: Santa Anita, Race 6, $40 to win on 1-Candied.
Santa Anita Park, Race 7, 6:20 pm ET
Grade 1 Breeders Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf, 1 mile, Turf, 2-Year-Old Fillies
This race has been around a while, long enough that it’s a bit curious that European horses have not done better in it: they’ve won just three of the fifteen races run since the race was first contested in 2008. Team Euro did win last year, when Coolmore’s Meditate took the prize at Keeneland, and we think that trend is overwhelmingly likely to continue at Santa Anita today, as the five entrants from the Continent look overwhelmingly superior to their nine American rivals. The Euro we like the most is 14-Les Pavots, who comes from France with many attributes we like: she has a world-class pedigree; she is trained by an extremely skilled trainer in Francis-Henri Graffard; and she has been running against top company at top-tier French tracks like Longchamp, Deauville, and Chantilly. In her last race, in fact, she finished third behind Opera Singer, who might be the best 2-year-old grass filly in the world.
There are two questions about Les Pavots: how she will handle the firm turf at Santa Anita, and whether she will be able to overcome her difficult outside post. We think the first question is easier to answer than the first – we think she’ll handle the ground just fine – and we think she will be OK with the second. In fact, we kind of like the post, as it will scare bettors away, and that, combined with the fact that Graffard is unknown to most American racing fans, should get us a square price on a filly who looks very, very good. Les Pavots is 8-1 on the morning line; we think she’ll be a bit higher by post time, and will bet her to win. The bet: Santa Anita, Race 7, $50 to win on 14-Les Pavots.
Santa Anita Park, Race 8, 7:00 pm ET
Grade 1 Breeders Cup Breeders Cup Juvenile, 1 1/16 miles, Dirt, 2-Year-Olds
Ten colts go in the Juvenile. We think the early pace will be hot, which makes the pick 6-Locked, who looked very good winning the Breeders Futurity at Keeneland last out, and who should get a dream trip here, sitting well behind the destructive pace duel happening up front, and seizing control after the speed horses have run each other into submission. We will bet him to win at 7/2 odds. The bet: Santa Anita, Race 8, $40 to win on 6-Locked.
Santa Anita Park, Race 9, 7:40 pm ET
Grade 1 Breeders Cup Juvenile Turf, 1 mile, Turf, 2-Year-Olds
The field of the 2023 Breeders Cup Juvenile Turf is divided into two contingents: there are nine American starters, and there are three European invaders, all from the powerhouse barn of Aidan O’Brien. Our handicapping of the began by drawing a line through the former group, all of them, as they look decidedly inferior, especially in light of the way Euro horses have dominated turf stakes this year on this side of the pond.
As for the question of which of O’Brien’s runners looks the best, we think it is 2-River Tiber, who has been running against the best 2-year-olds in Europe, and who has been doing rather well, finishing third in both the Middle Park Stakes at Newmarket and the Prix Morny at Deauville, both Group 1 races. A colt named Vandeek won both those races, and he’d be a massive favorite if he were entered here, so the fact that River Tiber finished within two lengths of him both times is a sign that he has quite a bit of talent. Sometimes handicapping horse races is hard, but in this case, it seems simple: identify the best horse, and bet him to win. We’ll do that with River Tiber, who is 3-1 on the morning line. The bet: Santa Anita, Race 9, $50 to win on 2-River Tiber.
That’s all for today. Until tomorrow, enjoy the racing, be safe, and, as always, good luck at the windows.